Thursday, 14 November 2013

Facing the Modern Exhibition - National Gallery

The interest in this exhibition for me was to see portraits by Gustave Klimt and Egon Scheile, although the thrust of the exhibition was to explore portraiture in the light of the historic background of the Austro-Hungarian empire, focusing on Vienna.  Through the portraits it is possible to gauge the impact of social economic changes during the period up to the First World War, when ideologies were see-sawing, from relative equality and liberalism in the late 1800s to the collapse of the Empire after the First World War, when Makart was producing traditional portraiture.

The fortunes of new immigrants led to the desire for family portraits.  These were initially painted in the traditional style.  As tensions started to display themselves with the move away from modern multi-culturalism, families were confined to their homes and the portraits of the time displayed some of those tensions, particularly through the portraits of artists like Egon Schiele.  Some artists used themselves, their family and friends as models in order to explore new ways of painting.

There is a typical 'Victorian' macabre interest in death and deathbed portraiture which coincided with the increasing pessimism felt by dispossessed. At this period the mood was echoed by the loss of Klimt and Schiele, the latter died as a consequence of the worldwide Spanish 'Flu epidemic. Some of the work by artists was therefore unfinished or abandoned, suggesting the failure of the Empire.  Nonetheless, the innovative art that was explored at the time sets a regenerative tone to the historic context.

The work of Schiele, for me stood out and I was impressed by the beauty of the subtle colour and  bold brushwork.  Klimt had produced two in memorium paintings of a young girl, the first was rejected by the family who commissioned a second which depicts the girl as living and smiling.  The original remained more moving though less colourful.  It was also interesting to see a Klimt worked in a very traditional David/Ingres style.

The Kokoshka portraits displayed the style that would eventually mark him out as an Expressionist painter reminiscent of The Tempest.

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